NAMM 2017: Top 5 New Audio Products

The National Association of Music Merchants Trade Show (or NAMM, as it is usually called) has for years been the biggest yearly event in the pro audio industry, where brands unveil their biggest products, and this year was no exception. Here is a top five of the most notable products you will want to own this year:

 

Aston Starlight

Aston have been the most talked-about mic brand since the release of their first few products over a year ago, and their next product ensures this trend will keep going for another while with the announcement of the Starlight, a small-diaphragm condenser with a laser!
If that sounds gimmicky, it definitely is; after all, if the microphone’s polar pattern is as smooth as it should be, a few degrees off shouldn’t noticeably detract from the sound.

However, if it is indeed as simple and seamless to use as it seems like it will be, then there really is no drawback to it, and it could shave off a few precious seconds during rigging, for live drums in particular. However, as headline-catching as a laser will always be (we half expected the mic to be called Ill-Tempered Sea Bass, if you get the film reference) it is far from the only, or even the biggest, innovation found in this mic.

The most obvious one is the head of the mic, which sports a sintered end as opposed to the almost omnipresent grille on most mics. Sintered metal, similar to the wire mesh used on their other mics, creates a sturdy and slightly wind-resistant cover to the capsule. The material is reportedly acoustically transparent, although that remains to be seen through hands-on testing. However, if the sadly discontinued AKG D2*2 line is anything to go by (the funny-looking dynamic mics at the House of Commons lecterns), Aston very likely have a winner in their hands.

The second thing is an active voice switching circuit just after the capsule, which changes the frequency response cleanly and easily. Frequency charts haven’t been released yet, but we have reason to believe it would be a choice between “warm”, flat, and “bright” tonalities, which could prove incredibly useful in practice. For those sceptical about this, it is important to note that almost all condenser microphones contain a certain amount of filtering of one kind or another in their preamp circuitry, even at the highest levels of performance, so this unusual amount of flexibility shouldn’t detract from the sound. We are very much looking forward to testing this mic.

 

ADAM S Range

ADAM Audio is one of the most respected speaker manufacturers in the pro audio world, and after having gone through restructuring a couple of years ago, have come back in force, whilst solidifying their lineup for a leaner operation, all still based in Germany.

Since “too many products” was listed as one of the reasons for their problems at the time, we know that the release of a whole new line of products is something they weren’t going to take lightly; we are therefore incredibly happy to hear they are releasing a whole new flagship range, which they call the S Series.

They have improved on their already amazing ribbon tweeters and added a ridiculously powerful amplifier, but most notably they have also added DSP for optimisation of crossovers and EQ, a method which we have seen develop quickly in the last few years and crop up on some seriously high-end models. Some people might scoff at digital “help” in a speaker, but the unavoidable fact is that what can be done with regards to dynamically changing, steep crossover filters in digital signals is orders of magnitude better than what is possible in the analogue realm, and have proven to be unarguable improvements on speakers like the new KRK V series 4.

We have very high expectations for the whole range, but particularly the small S2V, which is the same size as the venerable A7X, a staple of home studios worldwide, and are eager to pit them against the very highest-end of speakers, the likes of PMC, Barefoot, Amphion, or PSI.

 

iRig Acoustic Stage

Anyone who has played an acoustic guitar live knows how difficult it is to get both sound quality and volume out of it; you can use different types of microphone in different positions, which inevitably either pin you down to a specific position on the stage, produce an inconsistent sound quality, or feed back straight away, or use pickups, which feed back less but are inevitably artificial-sounding in comparison. No matter how much digital effects have advanced these last few years, there isn’t a system out there (and possibly can’t be) that can hide a pickup’s limitations and make them sound quite as good as a decent mic in the right position.

There are amazing, portable microphone options by the likes of DPA, but anyone without seriously deep pockets has been left with rather unsatisfactory options until now. The iRig seriously changes the game in more ways than one; it is amazingly cheap, sounds great, has tonal shaping options, and has a big red feedback button to press whenever things are getting hairy!

Unless a very serious shortcoming rears its head in real-life use (reliability could theoretically be a problem) this truly seems like the new go-to option for acoustic guitars on stage, at anything but the very high end situations. We are very excited to try this out.

 

Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII

Since the release of the first Apollo interfaces a little while ago, they have been spotted in high-end personal and project studios around the industry; the built-in processor effects are some of the best available.

The Thunderbolt protocol ensures incredibly low latency (which is a requirement for DSP), but a few people had been rather unimpressed by the quality of the preamps and converters. UA updates a lot of the circuitry for even better sound quality, and adds a much requested talkback microphone, which will prove incredibly useful for anyone recording musicians in a separate room.

Another thing to note is the Unison technology on their preamp emulations, which digitally control the input impedance, gain, and other undisclosed parts of the analogue circuitry for a more faithful emulation of the original product. All in all, a much-appreciated update to the range.

 

Mackie Big Knob Passive

Last but not least, an unassuming product that seems to get things just right where so many others fail when trying to strike the delicate balance between features, price, and size. Monitor controllers are far from the sexiest product to shop for, and yet, when they are required, they end up as one of the most crucial bits of kit in the studio – the one we are physically most in contact with in daily use.

High-quality monitor controllers do exist, as well as cheap-and-cheerful ones, but most of the middle ground is populated by products that are heavy on features, but often to the detriment of audio quality.

This is a good-looking, no-frills, no-nonsense affair: two balanced TRS ins, two balanced TRS outs, five basic control buttons, and a big knob in the middle. It sounds obvious, but it is surprisingly difficult to find sensibly-priced alternatives that don’t either bog you down with features, or lack an important one (like balanced I/O or a mono button). This gets it all exactly right.

 

Do stay tuned for more news, articles, and product reviews. Happy playing!